Remember Huerta's Summer Safety Plea? How Did We Do?

The FAA Administrator gave GA pilots a straightforward challenge this summer: Fly safely. Now that numbers are in, what happens next?

Safety First Sign

Safety First Sign

You may recall at the start of the summer flying season FAA Administrator Michael Huerta implored general aviation pilots to fly safely in June, July and August. In an open letter to the GA community delivered just before the Memorial Day weekend, Huerta begged us, "Make sure you're ready – really ready – to fly."

So how did we do? Now that Labor Day has come and gone we can examine the summer accident stats to see if we fared better or worse than the norm. Although no official numbers have been released by the FAA or NTSB, it appears that, in general, we failed Huerta’s test – miserably.

Fatal crashes of GA airplanes occurred with alarming regularity throughout the summer, just as they always do. There were a particularly high number of crashes involving homebuilt airplanes, but fatal accidents across all segments occurred on a continual basis. And while Alaska saw fewer crashes overall, fatalities were up.

This summer was also notable for a handful of airline crashes – all of them in the landing phase, interestingly – starting with the Asiana 777 mishap at San Francisco in July and continuing with the nose gear collapse at New York LaGuardia of a Southwest 737 and finally the fatal crash of a UPS Airbus A300 in Birmingham, Alabama, last month.

Huerta may have held out hope that his pre-summer pep talk would have some positive impact on safety. The NTSB probably did as well when it released a series of safety videos on YouTube at the start of the summer aimed at pointing out persistent danger areas, such as stalling at low altitude.

Neither of these tactics worked. The sad fact is that many of the crashes we covered in Flying's eNews (and dozens more we didn't cover) appear to have been easily avoidable. Pilots ran out of gas, they spun in at low altitude, they flew into weather they had no business tangling with – in other words, the same old stories we've been reporting for years.

Our poor safety record is one of the undeniable factors hamstringing the entire GA community – more so than the high price of avgas, government TFRs, outdated certification standards or a host of other negative factors – although these certainly don’t help either. But if we don’t solve our safety problem first, there’s not much hope for the future of GA – at least not the vibrant, thriving GA so many of us yearn for.

General aviation has a safety problem, and it has a safety image problem as well. “Little airplanes crash all the time” is a common refrain, especially from spouses who would rather their significant others pursued some less risky hobby. Unless we can do something to move the GA safety needle in a positive direction and keep it there, our ranks will only continue to dwindle.

In a world that has become safer over the years by almost every measure, we have not made similar progress in general aviation. If we don't see dramatic improvements soon (and let's face it, we probably won't), don’t be surprised when you start to hear rumblings that the FAA – or even Congress – has decided to step in to force a change. Because that's where we're headed.

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